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An Anti-Racist Legislative Amendment Amid a Bid for Nationalism

0 Comments 🕔20.Feb 2015

This article is part of our Genocide Denial and the Law feature.

Monument in Thessaloniki to commemorate the “genocide of Greeks of Pontus” (erected in 2006). It depicts a Pontic mother with her child, the historic monastery of Virgin Mary of Soumela, the emblem of Pontic Greeks (an eagle), a scene of expulsion, and a representation of a dance.

by Yannis Sygkelos

Since the fall of 2013, a number of violent, bloody attacks and assassinations orchestrated by members of the fascist political party Golden Dawn have ramped up an amending legislative process for the imposition of sanctions against those who intentionally incite or provoke violence or hatred speech against groups based on race, color, religion, origin, ethnicity, or sexual orientation (article 1),[1] and against those who publicly praise or deny with malice the gravity of the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, as well as the Holocaust in a way that may incite violence or hatred against racial, ethnic, national, or religious groups (article 2). This legislative amendment observes the European Union (EU) framework decision on combating certain forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law.[2] The input of “crimes of genocide,” though, triggered a debate over an additional, express reference to genocide against Greek Orthodox populations of the southern coast of the Black Sea (Pontus) and of Asia Minor ostensibly committed between 1915 and 1922 by Young Turks and Kemalist armed forces.


Pressures for an insertion of genocide against Greek Orthodox populations

Populous and influential associations of Greeks of the southern Black Sea coast (Pontus) exerted substantial pressure on the coalition government of the day by issuing numerous statements and press releases in which they complained about “the omission of an explicit reference to the genocide of the Greeks of Pontus and of Asia Minor, and the Armenians.”[3] One-third of the members of parliament (MPs) of the largest party of the coalition government of the day signed an appeal to the Prime Minister in which they insisted that the “denial of genocide against the Greek Orthodox populations of Anatolia must be liable to punishment, such as the denial of the Holocaust.”[4] In tandem with it, eight non-affiliated MPs stated that the “omission of a reference to genocide against the Pontic people, Armenians, and Greeks of Asia Minor offends the Greek identity and history.”[5] Eventually, the former Minister of Justice, Ch. Athanasiou, a conservative former superior judge, included ‘genocides recognized by the Greek Parliament’ in the amendment provisions. Indeed, the Greek Parliament enacted the amendment on genocide against Greek Orthodox populations of Anatolia in 1994 and 1998 amid a domestic political climate of intensive national discourse, of which a wide circle of politicians, journalists, and academics purposely sought to take advantage.

A different angle of the above monument.

A different angle of the above monument.


Genocide against Greek Orthodox populations?

Nevertheless, ethnic cleansing, massacres, and instances of extreme brutality against Greek Orthodox populations that occurred in Anatolia can hardly amount to genocide, insofar as the element of ‘intent’ of mental or physical destruction,[6] which implies a deliberate process and strategy, is totally absent. Furthermore, genocide aims to destroy the biological, social, and/or cultural fabric of a group of people, or aims for their total annihilation – that is, goals totally missing in the Kemalist project. Otherwise, the exchange of populations (Treaty of Lausanne) or, most importantly, the fact that more than a million Greek Orthodox refugees had fled or been driven out of Anatolia before 1923 would have been inexplicable. The uprooting of non-Muslim communities in the southern coast of the Black Sea needs to be seen as part of an ethnic homogenization project not unfamiliar to nation-building strategies. What is more, crimes of genocide are meaningful only if international courts are eligible to recognize them. Otherwise, any massacre in the Balkan Peninsula fraught with hideous war atrocities may raise claims fueled by domestic nationalists for the recognition of multiple crimes of genocide.

The recognition of the crime of genocide under international law has both a legal and a political-pedagogical perspective. As long as the committing of genocide infringes upon fundamental human rights, which are under international protection, the legal perspective of its recognition underlies the necessity of a tangibly severe punishment of perpetrators. For this reason, genocide was devised in the aftermath of the Second World War to provide the legal grounds for incriminating projects set on the total destruction of human groups. The same is applied in the cases of the massacre of Srebrenica in 1995 and the extermination of Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994. The Treaty of Sèvres (1920) provided for persecution of Ottoman officials who had committed war crimes related to Armenian victims only, but lack of international judicial norms aborted judicial proceedings. Hence, the genocide of Greek Orthodox populations has no international legal standing at all. The political-pedagogical perspective concerns the memory of crimes of genocide in order to eliminate all factors that generated them. For this purpose, paradigms of total, intentional, and systematic extermination of groups of people who could not escape their own (e.g., Jewish) nature are meaningful to count as genocide for being unique in terms of size, extent, means of being conducted, and outcomes. The case of the events that occurred in Anatolia during World War I and the subsequent hostilities in Asia Minor meet neither the legal nor the political-pedagogical aspects of the recognition of the crime of genocide.


The incrimination of genocide denial

There is a striking difference between Holocaust denial and the potential genocide denial of Greek Orthodox populations of Anatolia. The former may constitute the principal manifestation of anti-Semitic feelings and prejudices resulting in fomenting racist acts, hate speech, discrimination, and hostility against members of the targeted group.[7] Racism, hate speech, violence, or hostilities in no way threaten the offspring of Greek Orthodox populations of Anatolia or lead to racial discrimination. Therefore, persecution and conviction for such an offense can be neither justified nor necessary in a democratic society and cannot be dictated by an imperative social need.

What is more, making genocide denial a criminal offense impinges on freedom of speech. On these grounds, the Constitutional Council of France ruled that a law making it a criminal offense to publicly deny the Armenian genocide was unconstitutional,[8] despite the recognition of the Armenian genocide by the French Parliament. In the same spirit, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found criminal persecution for Armenian genocide denial unjustified, holding that “the free exercise of the right to openly discuss questions of a sensitive and controversial nature was one of the fundamental aspects of freedom of expression.”[9] By this ruling, the ECtHR left the ongoing legal, political, and historical debate over historical events and their interpretation open and unfettered. On the contrary, the ECtHR held that Holocaust denial does not enjoy protection under article 10 (freedom of expression),[10] so long as Holocaust denial, under certain circumstances, may intentionally incite violence, hatred, or discrimination. Indeed, the ECtHR held that Holocaust denial undermines “the values on which the fight against racism and anti-Semitism are based and constitutes a serious threat to public order.”[11]

It is needless to say, then, that making it a criminal offense to deny a controversial genocide recognized only by the Greek Parliament cannot withstand legal or political challenges and objections.

 

Yannis Sygkelos is a Lecturer at DEI College [Thessaloniki, Greece], a registered teaching institution of the University of London (International Programmes). His research interests involve nationalism, human rights, political ideologies, and discourse theory and analysis, while his main field is the Balkans. He is the author of the manuscript “Nationalism from the Left” and several academic articles.

 

This article is part of our Genocide Denial and the Law feature.


[1] <www.parliament.gr/UserFiles/c8827c35-4399-4fbb-8ea6-aebdc768f4f7/8267147.pdf> [in Greek] This amendment was enacted in September 2014.

[2] Council Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA.

[3] <http://epontos.blogspot.gr/2014/08/Pontos-Genocide_21.html> [in Greek]

[4] <www.imerisia.gr/article.asp?catid=26509&subid=2&pubid=113329412> [in Greek]

[5] <www.paraskhnio.gr/kataptysti-ypagoreysi-to-antiratsi/> [in Greek]

[6] Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, article 2; and John Quigley, Genocide Convention: An International Law Analysis (Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2013).

[7] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, articles 19 and 20; and Human Rights Committee, Faurisson vs. France, Communication No. 550/1993.

[8] <http://edition.cnn.com/2012/02/28/world/europe/france-armenia-genocide/index.html>.

[9] Perinçek vs. Switzerland, press release of the ECtHR 370 (2013).

[10] Garaudy vs. France (no. 65831/01), 2003.

[11] Ludovic Hennebel and Thomas Hochmann, Genocide Denials and the Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

 

 

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